Pipe organ vs. organ, or How Dare You Evolve Your Tool

Also brought to mind by Cameron Carpenter‘s musings:

I don’t know how we wound up in the situation where electric guitarists can play their instruments and investigate the new things they can do, but not be seen as pissing on Segovia’s grave … but classical musicians can’t change their instruments and investigate their new possibilities without being seen as disrespecting the old ones. No one accuses Neal Schon of disrespecting Segovia by playing an electric guitar, and even performing exclusively on it. It’s very strange. It’s simply seen as its own instrument on its own terms. Different from an acoustic of course, and capable of doing other things.

It started out as very similar and approached in similar ways, but people began to see the new things it could do as features and not bugs. Distortion? Feedback? I don’t care for them often, but the players on the device began to say, “Okay, we’re not going to call this a problem anymore because an acoustic guitar doesn’t do it. It’s a sound that the device can make, let’s see how to use it artistically.” And now it’s its own device, taken on its own terms, which can investigate new areas of music that are not open to acoustics. Acoustics are still around, and still beautiful, but these new devices exist alongside them. That’s all it is.

In my mind, it also makes me think of how fretless bass players will sometimes use instruments with inlays, while classical string players refuse to do so in what seems like an attempt to keep the instrument as difficult to use as it can be.

The argument made is usually that it locks one into a specific tuning, but I would say that the bass players who use inlays don’t seem “locked” into anything if they don’t want to be. Just because you have a line on your fingerboard that suggests a whole step interval doesn’t mean that you don’t have the freedom to still put your finger any damned place you want.

Besides, my quite good and well-respected teacher encouraged me to look at the fingerboard and use my eyes to make sure where I placed my fingers anyway! If we were relying only on our ears, we wouldn’t be told to look at the fingerboard in the first place! There’s tragic comedy someplace in the fact that string teachers tell students to look at a device with no set tempering, and piano teachers insist that their students not look at their discrete and tempered instrument to play it.

What goes for bass players goes for string players as well. There is zero logical foundation to the statement that inlays destroy musicality. If your musicality is that fragile and your free will that easier overtaken, you shouldn’t be playing the instrument in the first place.

It just boggles me how string players will act like the existence of inlays on the fingerboard will suck their free will out through their eyeballs. What an idiotic opinion. At bottom, it’s nothing but a desire to keep the instrument relatively unplayable without a lifetime of effort, in order to make sure that as few people play it as possible. Keep the fraternity small and exclusive, a sort of country-club mentality. It’s also a way to ensure that one must pass through that fraternity before one is able to play, so that the fraternity gets its chance to take control over what you will say on your device, that you will only communicate approved ideas in an approved way. If you have to pass through that fraternity first, then that gives them the opportunity to make sure that whatever message you send has been dogmatically approved by them first.

Yet why shouldn’t the thing be made easier to play, so that more people can communicate more things on it? It’s technology, isn’t it? We don’t stick to horses and buggies when we can use cars, nor pinces-nez in place of glasses. We don’t incise stone tablets when we can use pens and papers, nor stick to pens and paper when we can use computers. We simply use the right tool for the right job, and where the tool makes things harder, we change it. If people want to use the old-school tools because they like them, then fine. But again, no one says that Tommy Shaw hates and wants to destroy all acoustic guitars just because he sticks to an electric more often than not. I have no doubt that he likes to listen to Pepe Romero.

So why the hell can’t other instruments evolve in multiple directions? Why do people insist on feeling threatened just because someone somewhere doesn’t do something exactly the way they do it? Because someone somewhere insists on being not them? You over there! You’re disrespecting me and calling me into question by not being me!

I also think it sometimes comes from classical music being seen as a geeky thing to do, which causes those who do it to overcompensate in an effort to make themselves seem tougher and more “hardcore.” It’s an insecurity at its heart, a fear that one will vanish if one’s being is not continually validated, along with a fear that, if a player isn’t forced to pass through a monastic order first, they might say Unapproved Things through their instrument.